Let the Church Be the Church

Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD Associate Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University Research Consultant, NAACP Health Department

The Black Church has historically been a place of healing – spiritually, physically, and emotionally.  We find our roots in liberation theology, the understanding that Jesus came to give voice to the marginalized, love to the rejected, and empowerment to the oppressed.  Historically the resurrection of Jesus gave people of African descent hope that we could rise in the aftermath of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, lynchings, rapings, miseducation, hate crimes, discrimination, stigma, and institutionalized racism.  We met in Churches to plan revolution, to experience revival, and to remember our divine destiny.  Yet in 2011, we find ourselves at the 30 year anniversary of a new form of assault against our community and that assault is in the form of HIV/AIDS.  According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2009, Blacks accounted for 44% (21,200) of new HIV infections while representing just 14% of the total US population. The HIV infection rate among Blacks in 2009 was almost eight times that of whites (69.9 versus 9.1 per 100,000). In 2006, the rate of new HIV infections for Black women was nearly 15 times as high as that of White women and nearly 4 times that of Hispanic/Latina women.  Blacks are the racial group in the United States most affected by HIV/AIDS and too many of our Churches have remained silent. 

We know the truth can set us free, but in most cases we have struggled to find the will or the words to address the very thing that is taking our sisters and brothers out. AIDS is killing us across lines of education, income, gender, age, geography, and sexual orientation.  The minimal response to the health disparity around HIV is one of the most glaring expressions of injustice in our lifetime and the Church must respond.  We are the descendants of those who refused to be turned away by police dogs, fire hoses, incarceration, and even the assassination of our leaders.  Today we must stand up against stigma, shame, and our discomfort with honest discussions of sexuality so once again the Church can be the Church.  “We have to resist the internalized rage, fear, and self-rejection that leads us to neglect the black body”, Rev. Cecelia Williams Bryant, Senior Episcopal Supervisor of the AME Church notes.  Rev. Bryant proclaims “we need a theology of wellness so that we can address the disregard for black bodies that is manifested in the lack of health screenings and the prevalence of obesity, body shame, hair hatred, and yes HIV in our community.”